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North Carolina Unemployment Guide

Coronavirus Update! -- What North Carolina Residents Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits

As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, the unemployment rate is skyrocketing in every state. If you have lost your job in North Carolina, apply for unemployment benefits at the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security. Learn about how unemployment claims relating to COVID-19 will be handled in North Carolina.

As of the end of July 2020, approximately 30 million people -- one in five workers -- were collecting unemployment. This figure includes the millions of employees who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and the steps state and local governments have taken to contain it, from orders shutting down nonessential businesses to shelter-in-place restrictions, school closures, and more. It also includes millions of gig workers, contractors, and self-employed people who are collecting unemployment benefits through the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. 

If You Are Still Employed: You may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or paid family leave under a new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Act. Some states also provide paid time off that may be available to you. See Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in North Carolina to learn more about these programs. 

How Unemployment Programs Are Adapting to COVID-19

Federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly.

Federal CARES Act Expands Benefits to Workers in North Carolina

Congress has passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program. Employees eligible for unemployment in North Carolina were receiving an additional $600 per week of federally-funded benefits, on top of what North Carolina already pays. However, these additional benefits expired at the end of July 2020, and Congress is still arguing about whether and how to extend the program. (In August, President Trump signed an executive memorandum to redirect disaster relief money from FEMA to pay for an additional $300 or $400 per week in benefits; learn more about this lost wages assistance program.) And, unemployed individuals who run out of state-funded benefits will receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits, available through December 31, 2020.

Under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance part of the CARES Act, self-employed workers (including gig workers and independent contractors), part-time workers, workers who have already used up their unemployment benefits under state law, and those with limited work histories are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits in North Carolina. The new program also covers those who are out of work for reasons relating to COVID-19 but would not otherwise be eligible for benefits. Benefits under this federal program are available for 39 weeks total. (Learn more about this program in our Pandemic Unemployment Assistance article.) Individuals eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under this new program were also receiving the additional $600 per week until the end of July 2020. 

The CARES Act includes a number of other unemployment provisions, including financial incentives for work-sharing programs (which pay benefits to employees who are kept on the employer's payroll at reduced hours) and payment for the first week of unemployment, which in many states was an unpaid waiting period. 

Information on North Carolina Unemployment Benefits and COVID-19

In addition to the changes mandated by the federal CARES Act, most states have made their unemployment programs more generous to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

At our last check, North Carolina announced changes to its unemployment rules to address the increasing numbers of claims relating to the coronavirus pandemic. These changes provide that the following workers may receive benefits:

  • employees who contract COVID-19 or need time off to care for a family member who has contracted the virus,
  • employees who are quarantined, although employees may not refuse work that they can perform while quarantined,
  • employees who are temporarily laid off, and
  • employees who are laid off or sent home without pay by their employer due to coronavirus concerns. 

Employees in these categories will not have to show that they are actively seeking work while out, will not have to prove that they are "able and available to work."

You can find the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security's resource page on COVID-19 here, as well as an FAQ on coronavirus and unemployment insurance benefits.

Because things are changing so quickly, the best place to find out the current rules in North Carolina is the website of the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security. Especially if you are trying to file for benefits online, you’ll have to be persistent: Demand for information and online filing systems is so high that state websites are overwhelmed with traffic. In the meantime, all of us at Legal Consumer wish you and your loved ones good health and economic security through these difficult times.

What You Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina

This site provides clear, accurate information on collecting unemployment benefits in North Carolina, including:

Here are three things to keep in mind as you get started:

1. You may be eligible for benefits even if you quit, you were fired for cause, or you are still working part-time.

Some people mistakenly believe that unemployment is available only to employees who are laid off. However, you don't have to lose your job in a layoff to qualify for benefits. The key question is whether you are out of work without fault on your part. So, if you were forced to quit your job in lieu of being fired, or you were fired because you don't have the necessary skills for your job, you could still be eligible for benefits. 

If you still have a job but your hours were cut significantly, you may be eligible for partial unemployment benefits. And remember, the CARES Act makes many more workers eligible for benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, including gig workers, freelancers, and more. (Learn about the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.)

2. Eligibility rules, benefit amounts, and duration differ from state to state.

Unemployment insurance works pretty much the same everywhere: Employers pay into a fund or purchase insurance, then former employees receive benefits when they lose their jobs. But the rules about who qualifies for unemployment, how long unemployment lasts, and especially how much you will receive in benefits vary a lot from state to state. 

In March 2020, the federal government issued guidance to state unemployment agencies. This guidance encourages states to be flexible in administering their unemployment programs, so more employees who are out of work can collect benefits. As states take action to help unemployed workers, rules on eligibility, benefit amounts, duration of benefits, and more will change. The best place to look for up-to-date information is the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security website.

Our site covers every state and the District of Columbia; this page gives you information specific to North Carolina. 

3. You can apply for benefits online at the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security.

Before you file for unemployment, you may want to learn more by reading our articles on benefit amounts, who qualifies for benefits, and so on. Once you're ready to file, you can do it online. Although some states still offer the option to file by phone or even in person, the coronavirus outbreak has closed many government offices to the public – and there may not be staff available to pick up the phone.

 


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How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, some states are imposing restrictions on people gathering in public locations. This may affect your ability to access physical offices of the the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security in person. Check North Carolina's unemployment insurance agency website for more information. And, read on to find out how you can file for unemployment insurance benefits in North Carolina online or by phone.

If You Are Still Employed: You may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or paid family leave under a new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Act. Some states also provide paid time off that may be available to you. See Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in North Carolina to learn more about these programs. And, if you are out of work or your hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, you may be entitled to enhanced unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

North Carolina's unemployment insurance agency website gives you the information you need to apply for unemployment insurance in North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security’s website tells you:

  • What information you’ll need on hand to apply for unemployment insurance benefits
  • How to apply online for unemployment insurance benefits
  • more...  

Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

You qualify for unemployment benefits in North Carolina if you meet two basic requirements:

  • you must have earned at least a minimum amount in the time before you lost your job, and
  • you must be out of work through no fault of your own.

If you meet these two qualifications when you apply, you will likely be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. (To keep receiving benefits after you are found eligible, you will also have to meet your state’s job search requirements; to learn more, see What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?)

Coronavirus Update: In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES" Act, which we cover here), which greatly expands eligibility for unemployment. (Learn about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to gig workers, freelancers, and others who aren't eligible for traditional unemployment benefits.) A number of states are also easing their eligibility rules to ensure that more people who are out of work due to COVID-19 qualify for unemployment benefits.

At our last check, North Carolina announced changes to its unemployment rules to address the increasing numbers of claims relating to the coronavirus pandemic. These changes provide that the following workers may receive benefits:

  • employees who contract COVID-19 or need time off to care for a family member who has contracted the virus,
  • employees who are quarantined, although employees may not refuse work that they can perform while quarantined,
  • employees who are temporarily laid off, and
  • employees who are laid off or sent home without pay by their employer due to coronavirus concerns. 

Employees in these categories will not have to show that they are actively seeking work while out, will not have to prove that they are "able and available to work."

You can find the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security's resource page on COVID-19 here, as well as an FAQ on coronavirus and unemployment insurance benefits.

 

Eligibility Requirement 1: Minimum Earnings

In every state, unemployment benefits are available only to those who are temporarily out of work. If you apply after being out of the workforce for years, for example, you won’t qualify for benefits. You must have been employed relatively recently, and earned at least a minimum amount, to be eligible.

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How the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Affects North Carolina Unemployment Benefits

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package that pumps money into many areas of our economy that have been impacted by COVID-19, including unemployment benefits. Read on to learn how the CARES Act affects those who are out of work in North Carolina.

More North Carolina Workers Are Eligible for Benefits

In every state, employees qualify for benefits if they are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. However, prior to the CARES Act, some categories of workers could not get benefits, including independent contractors (freelancers, gig workers, and the self-employed). The CARES Act authorizes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which makes these workers eligible for unemployment for the first time during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Part-time workers would also be eligible for benefits under this new program, even if state law does not ordinarily allow them to collect benefits. And, workers who do not have a sufficient work history to qualify for benefits under North Carolina's usual eligibility rules might still qualify.

North Carolina Workers Who Are Out of Work Due to COVID-19 Likely Qualify for Benefits

The CARES Act also relaxes eligibility rules about the reasons workers are unemployed to allow more workers to collect benefits. For example, you will be eligible for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program if you are out of work for any of these reasons:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a diagnosis.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are caring for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You cannot work because your child or other household member for whom you are the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility that has closed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You are unable to go to work because of a quarantine or because you have been advised to self-quarantine by a health-care provider.
  • You were scheduled to begin a job that no longer exists or that you can’t get to for reasons relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You have become the breadwinner or major support for your household because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19.
  • You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • Your workplace is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Some states have expanded their traditional unemployment programs to cover coronavirus-related job losses.

At our last check, North Carolina announced changes to its unemployment rules to address the increasing numbers of claims relating to the coronavirus pandemic. These changes provide that the following workers may receive benefits:

  • employees who contract COVID-19 or need time off to care for a family member who has contracted the virus,
  • employees who are quarantined, although employees may not refuse work that they can perform while quarantined,
  • employees who are temporarily laid off, and
  • employees who are laid off or sent home without pay by their employer due to coronavirus concerns. 

Employees in these categories will not have to show that they are actively seeking work while out, will not have to prove that they are "able and available to work."

You can find the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security's resource page on COVID-19 here, as well as an FAQ on coronavirus and unemployment insurance benefits.

If you have lost work due to COVID-19 but don't qualify under your state's rules, you will likely qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

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How Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, you can earn up to $350 per week in unemployment benefits under state law. Until the end of July 2020, unemployment claimants were eligible for an additional $600 in benefits per week, on top of their state benefit amount, under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act"). Congress has authorized . However, these additional benefits, called federal pandemic unemployment compensation, expired at the end of July, 2020. Although unemployment remains at record-breaking highs, Congress has not yet acted to extend this program. President Trump signed an executive memorandum in August 2020 to increase benefit checks by $300 or $400 for at least some unemployment recipients; learn more about the lost wages assistance program.)

Every state has its own rules for calculating unemployment benefits. Typically, the amount you receive each week is based on your earnings when you were employed. After all, unemployment benefits are intended to replace some of the income you lost along with your job, and tide you over until you find new work.

Calculating Your Benefit Amount

Your weekly unemployment benefit amount depends on your earnings during the base period.

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How Long Will My Unemployment Benefits Last in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the duration of benefits depends on the state's unemployment rate when you apply. The maximum period for which you may receive benefits is 12 to 20 weeks

Once your North Carolina benefits run out, you will be entitled to an additional 13 weeks of benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. In times of high unemployment, extended benefits under a different federal program may also be available.  

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What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly. These changes may affect waiting periods, job search requirements, and availability of benefits to those who are still working part time. These changes include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program, including continuation of benefits. Keep in mind that you are entitled to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits under the federal CARES Act after your state benefits are exhausted if you are unemployed due to COVID-19.

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Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits If I Was Wrongfully Terminated?

In order to collect unemployment, you must meet two basic requirements. First, you must have earned at least a minimum amount, set by state law, in the time before you lost your job. Second, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. For more information about these requirements, see Who is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

If you lose your job in a layoff, reduction-in-force (RIF), or downsizing, you will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. But, these are not the only ways that employees lose their jobs. Your eligibility for benefits depends upon the reason you become unemployed. 

If You Were Fired for Misconduct

Generally-speaking, if you are terminated, you can collect unemployment insurance benefits in North Carolina. But, there is an exception to that general rule in North Carolina:

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Can I Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

If the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security denies you unemployment insurance benefits, you can appeal. After you file your initial claim for unemployment benefits, the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security will send you a written determination of your eligibility for benefits and, if it finds you eligible, how much you will receive in benefits. But, if the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security finds that you are not eligible for benefits or grants you benefits in a lower amount than you believe you are entitled to, you can appeal that decision. And, if the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security finds you eligible to receive benefits, your ex-employer can appeal that decision.

If you want to appeal the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security decision, check the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security website and handbook for:

  • Any forms and instructions for filing your appeal
  • The deadline for filing your appeal
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Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Unemployment Benefits in North Carolina?

Having your own lawyer to represent you in the unemployment insurance benefits process in North Carolina will level the playing field for you—because your ex-employer will be represented. Your ex-employer is almost certainly going to have a lawyer or two offering guidance through the North Carolina unemployment process. This legal advice can give your ex-employer an edge over you in the process, especially if they intend to challenge your claim for benefits. Your own lawyer can:

  • Help you figure out if you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in North Carolina
  • Tell you if your employer’s stated reason for terminating you is valid and will bar benefits
  • Guide you through North Carolina’s unemployment insurance benefits claim process
  • Advise you on how to keep receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and
  • Assist you if you need to appeal a denial of unemployment insurance benefits by the North Carolina Department of Commerce: Division of Employment Security

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Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You in North Carolina

If you have a straightforward unemployment claim, you will likely be able to file for unemployment benefits on your own, without any help from a lawyer. Your claim is relatively simple if you can easily meet the North Carolina earnings requirements to qualify for benefits, and you and your employer agree that you lost your job through no fault of your own (for example, because you were laid off or had to quit when your military spouse was transferred to another state).

But if your case is more complicated, it might make sense to consult with or hire an unemployment lawyer to represent you. An unemployment lawyer can help you if you are facing any of the situations described below.

1. Your Employer Claims You Were Fired for Misconduct

You may not be eligible for benefits if you were fired for misconduct connected with the work. In North Carolina, misconduct is defined as:

  • deliberate disregard or violation of standards of behavior that were explained to you or that an employer has the right to expect from an employee, or
  • carelessness of such degree or frequency as to demonstrate significant and intentional disregard of the employee's duties or the employer's interests.
 

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Paying an Unemployment Lawyer in North Carolina

If you may be (or already have been) denied unemployment benefits in North Carolina, you may be wondering whether you need a lawyer -- and whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help with your unemployment case. (If you're wondering what a lawyer can do for you, check out Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You.) It all depends on your financial situation and how (and how much) the attorney charges. In some situations, an unemployment attorney may be willing to offer you a contingency fee arrangement. This means the lawyer gets paid only if you win, out of the money you receive as a settlement or award. 

Below, we explain some typical attorney fee arrangements in unemployment cases. 

Initial Consultation

Your first step in choosing an attorney – and deciding whether it makes sense to fight your employer in an unemployment claim, appeal, or lawsuit – is an initial consultation. The initial consultation provides you and the attorney an opportunity to decide whether and how you will work together. 

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